Our goal is to understand how the architecture of the mature nervous system emerges as a consequence of local interactions between cells during early development. We use a combination of cellular, molecular, genetic and computational tools to understand how cells differentiate in distinct patterns in the different compartments of the zebrafish nervous system. We analyze zebrafish mutants and embryos microinjected with morpholinos or mRNA to alter gene function. This allows us to examine mechanisms involved in the division of the prospective neural tissue into compartments with distinct fate and to examine how cell differentiation is regulated of within each compartment. We use transgenic zebrafish lines with fluorescent protein expression to take advantage of the transparency of zebrafish embryos and watch morphogenesis and cell signaling in a living embryo. Genetic analysis allows us to identify regulatory networks essential for specific aspects of neural patterning, while cell biological experiments identify trafficking events that are essential for regulating signaling. Finally, our group develops computer models of the genetic regulatory networks as a platform to integrate what has been learned through a combination of cellular, molecular and genetic analysis. This allows us visualize how local interactions between cells leads to the emergence of patterned neural development in the growing embryo.

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